Amidst a call for more transparency in police departments across America, journalists from USA Today and its affiliated newsrooms began filing records requests under open records laws. They compiled 200,000 incidents of misconduct, 110,000 internal affairs investigations, and 30,000 decertifications from the nation’s 100 largest police forces and their surrounding departments. The latter was done to track movement of disciplined police among departments.
Police unions and legislators have conspired to enact special protections for records, keeping them from public scrutiny. They claim certain information if released could place police and their families in jeopardy. USA Today said it published these records to give the public an opportunity to examine departments and police misconduct as well as to identify police who have been decertified yet continue to work in law enforcement. It addresses the concerns that particular departments or individual police officers target minorities and needlessly employ excessive use of force. Still, certain states’ privacy laws, such as California’s, which also employs the largest number of police in the nation, are so stringent that records could not be obtained for the database.
Co-chair of the 2014 White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Laurie Robinson, said transparency of police departments is critical to establishing trust between the agencies and the public. “It’s about the people who you have hired to protect you,” she said. “Traditionally, we would say for sure that policing has not been a transparent entity in the U.S. Transparency is just a very key step along the way to repairing our relationships.”
Dan Hils, president of the Fraternal Order of Policemen of Cincinnati, said the public should reflect on the fact that there are more than 750,000 law enforcement members nationwide. “The scrutiny is way tighter on police officers than most folks, and that’s why sometimes you see high numbers of misconduct cases,” he stated. “But I believe that policemen tend to be more honest and more trustworthy than the average citizen.”
USA Today said President Trump’s administration has developed a policy that turns a blind eye towards police misconduct. Jeff Sessions, as Attorney General in 2018, said the Justice Department was going to leave policing to the local authorities, that federal probes hurt crime-fighting.
USA Today found most misconduct cases were minor infractions, but still, tens of thousands of cases were for serious offenses: 22,924 for excessive use of force; 3,145 for sexual misconduct; 2,307 for domestic violence; 2,227 for “instances of perjury;” and 418 for obstructing justice. Database records reveal that police have beaten people, planted evidence, harassed women, lied, stole, dealt drugs, and drove drunk.
Records show that while fewer than 10% of police have been disciplined for any reason, many have multiple disciplinary reports in their records. The current database contains records of 2,500 police officers who have 10 or more disciplinary reports and 20 who have 100 or more, yet they still retain their badges. In addition, it lists 5,000 police officers who are on Brady lists, many not permitted by prosecutors to testify in court due to previous perjury claims. The Rev. Al Sharpton said, “Until the law is upheld and people know they will go to jail, they’re going to keep doing it, because they’re protected by wickedness in high places.”
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